'Star Trek: Discovery' Teaches A Masterclass About Writing A Great Death In "Project Daedalus"

Can Star Trek: Discovery not destroy my soul every week?

While the show has done its best job of keeping tension and emotions high, this week's episode, "Project Daedalus," is the season's saddest and most intense yet. At the same time, it was also a masterclass of how to write a great death. As we've seen already multiple times, Season 2 has made it a point to show up Season 1 in terms of characterization, storyline, and overall depth of meaning, and this week's sad death continues that trend. Here's how this tragedy is evidence of this season's rise to Star Trek prominence, as well as how the death highlights another tragedy – underutilizing an awesome character until it's too late.

I don't usually give a spoiler warning with these recaps, but if you are reading this and you haven't watched this week's episode, don't read further because you will find out who dies. Okay? The recap begins now.

RIP Airiam

It's with a heavy heart that we have to say goodbye to our favorite cyborg, Airiam. Airiam sacrificed herself for the greater good during an away mission with Michael and Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) to infiltrate Section 31, reset Section 31's threat-assessment system Control, and arrest Admiral Patar (Tara Nicodemo). But not only do they realize that Patar and the other Section 31 admirals are dead, Spock was framed, and that they've been interacting with holograms this whole time, Airiam realizes she's been compromised by the very system they're trying to restore. Understanding that she must kill herself to save her crew and prevent Control from doing any more damage, she asks Michael to fling her out into space.

Overall, this episode acted as a little Airiam character study, since we got to see more of her life before she became a cybernetic being. Apparently, before her life in her new body, she was coming back from an elopement. The day should have been the happiest of her life, but she was hurt in a horrible starship accident; while she barely survived, her husband died, and she was forced to live in a new cybernetic form.

While her new form provides her with imperviousness to most human ailments, she is not immune to technological ones, as is the case with Section 31's threat assessment system Control. The problem with Airiam seemed to occur right after Discovery was able to dismantle that futuristic probe that nearly killed Tyler and Pike in the tear in space-time. Whatever was in that probe found its way inside of Airiam and took over her body. That leads us to where we are now, with Airiam supplying Control with information from that dying star against her will. As Michael realizes, Control wants to use the star's wealth of information about the universe's various beings for one reason: to become sentient. If that happens, it could destroy all life in the universe and make the Red Angel's premonition a reality.

How to Write a Death

We haven't had much personalization of Airiam until this episode, and that's something I'm going to get into at length later in this recap. But first, it's necessary to say how well the show handled Airiam's death and really made it something that made sense for the story and successfully pulled at the heartstrings.

Despite the fact that we never got much one-on-one with Airiam, I feel like a lot of us who are fans of the show still feel some sense of comfort by seeing Airiam on the screen. I think this happens to most Star Trek fans when they become used to seeing a certain bridge crew episode after episode. They become almost like news anchors – touchstones of familiarity and safety. A Star Trek bridge crew hardly ever changes, so when it does, it can be a very jarring experience and remind people that nothing is ever actually set in stone.

With that said, it was nice to actually get to know Airiam in this episode. We could see just how integral she is to the crew and how much they consider her a friend. I wish we could have gone through her memories a lot earlier, or seen more interaction with her and her crew members in other episodes. But seeing Airiam's life and death is both a positive and negative for this episode.

First, let me point out the positive. The writing team really put their weight into this to make sure Airiam's death was done honorably and respectfully. They were able to give the character a full arc, a complete hero's moment in the spotlight. They were able to make us, the viewers, latch onto Airiam and not want to believe what we knew was coming. Usually, the Discovery crew can figure a way out of most predicaments, but this time, not even Michael's wild persistence could alter the fact that the crew would have to give up one of their own to save themselves and (hopefully) save the universe. And, even better, the preview for next week shows that they are actually going to give Airiam a proper funeral. Can we say the same for how the show handled Culber's death in Season 1?

This is the reason why I feel like this season is doing all it can to distinguish itself from last season. Whereas Culber was unceremoniously killed and his death lent nothing to the story except shock value, Airiam's death had a legitimate reason for happening. Yes, it helped move the story along, since she name-dropped Project Daedalus, a thing our crew is going to have to understand if they plan on altering the future, but it also showcased Airiam as pure Starfleet material: a genuine, selfless person who would rather sacrifice herself than put her crew and the entire universe in danger.

However, while I love how the show handled Airiam's death, I have to ask if her characterization came way too late for it to make a difference to some fans.

How Well Do We Know Airiam?

As I've stated plenty of times before, we haven't gotten to know Airiam very well until this episode. I'm sure some might wonder if her death could have been even more effective if we were familiar with her past and struggles before now. Up until now, I think a lot of people still thought she was a complete robot and not a cybernetic human. We've also never seen her emote as much as she has in this episode; it would have been nice to see her range of emotions before now, because I'm sure some felt like seeing her emote was out of character. Certainly, seeing her have an off-screen friendship with Tilly is something new. But as viewers, we're supposed to buy the fact that a lot of stuff between Airiam and the other crew members happens all the time.

Can we honestly do that? I guess that's going to be left to the individual. I can halfway buy it, but I'm still like, "I wish I'd seen some of this beforehand." Case in point: We've seen Rhys emote more in Season 1 than Airiam has in both seasons, and Rhys barely even talked last season.

Despite Airiam's characterization being filled in at the last second, there is one thing we need to remember: while death happens in the Star Trek universe, a death of a major character is hardly ever final. We've seen it before with Spock, then with Alternate Timeline Kirk (aka Chris Pine in the new Star Trek films), and now with Culber. I'd be surprised if we don't see Airiam come back in some shape or form, especially since she's downloaded all of her memories into the Discovery.

Hannah Cheesman, who played Airiam this season, told SyFy that she hopes Airiam can come back, since she views Airaim as a proto-Data. "My dream though is this...they do use her memories and bring her back. But she's somehow more humanoid and I don't have to wear the prosthetics," she said. This could be possible, since Airiam's cyborg body is less technologically-savvy than Data's, who is much more humanoid in appearance. Perhaps Airiam 2.0 could be on the way.

But there's one other thing that could be on the way: The Borg.

Is Control The Proto-Borg?

I found this tweet online after watching "Project Daedalus," and I found it very intriguing.

Tonight's episode of #StarTrekDiscovery leaves a fascinating question at the forefront of my thoughts: What is the origin of The Borg, and could Starfleet have been part of (or all of) the reason behind it's origin?

— Chakotay's Face Tattoo (@JenForReal) March 15, 2019

Could this be true? I mean, the signs line up, don't they? The Borg are a collective of cybernetic beings that believe in the power of technology and sameness over individuality. In fact, they see this as the highest expression of intelligence. Could it be that the probe that came from the time rip was sent by a Borg civilization from another timeline that actually achieved its goal of assimilating all life? If this is the case, then I'm all for seeing the Borg in Discovery. They have always been my favorite antagonists in the Star Trek universe because I think we all have something inside us that wants to be just like someone else. I mean, look at social media: nearly everyone's trying to posture long enough to be accepted into the hive mind. We humans are natural hive-minded beings, yet we often try to go against that instinct with these cries of individualism.

I won't get into my treatise on how we as a society could balance desires for both individualism and tribalism, but if you're alive, you've felt like you were an outsider in a negative way before. We've all wanted to belong to a group before. The Borg show how easy it could be to just give yourself over to a collective, regardless of if that collective means well or not. Meanwhile, Starfleet, a different kind of collective, aims to preserve individuality. The two group's disagreements provided philosophical quandaries that have always interested me.

Emotional Spock

Seeing Spock let his hair out – both literally and figuratively – has become a new highlight for me. First of all, Ethan Peck is doing a great job portraying Spock as a confused, insecure version of himself. It's cool seeing how Spock was before he became the Spock we knew from TOS or even the new Star Trek films. To me, Spock was always someone with simmering rage underneath his cool exterior, and Peck has really tapped into everything that made Spock mad in the past: his inability to connect with his father in the way he'd like, his frustrations at being ostracized by Vulcans, his irritation at not being able to solve a problem using logic. Now that we know his past with Michael, we can add her shunning him on the list. That last bit is something he won't let her forget...at least for right now.

But another thing that's eating him up is his struggle to come to terms with the fact that he could be a failure at saving the universe. He doesn't know why the Red Angel chose him and he doesn't know what it wants from him. Spock's low self-esteem is already telling him he's a failure at life because of who he is; it's not that big of a leap for his mind to tell him he'll fail at this, too. Being a failure in every sense of the word is what truly fuels Spock's anger at the world.

Airiam's death actually brings Michael in touch with some of that feeling of failure; Spock clocked her habit of putting undue burden on herself so she won't have to wrestle with harder emotions like failure. She didn't want to hear it at the time, but she exhibited that trait when she tried to save Airiam from the inevitable. When she saw Airiam zoom out into space, she must have felt a piece of that failure.

And, as a Spock groupie, I must say that while I've always found Spock attractive, I find Spock with mussed hair and beard really attractive. There, I said it. Agree to agree with me in the comments, because I don't see how you can disagree. As you comment on Spock's hotness, let's pour one out for Airiam and wish her godspeed on her journey to the unknown.